Sunday, December 28, 2008

MaPo Tofu

This recipe will knock your socks off and clear your sinuses out! It requires a couple of special ingredients, but once you have them you can make this all the time. No need for a trip to Tea House when you can make Ma Po Tofu at home!

You can see the chili black bean sauce in the upper left. Please excuse the lack of a Delft chafing tureen.

1/2 c. ground pork (or chicken or beef)
2 packs soft tofu, drained and cut into 3/4" cubes
1 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. Chili Black Bean Sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. hot water
1 Tbsp. rice wine or sherry
4 green onions, finely sliced into rounds
1/4 c. corn or tapioca starch + 1/4 c. cold water
1 Tbsp. ground Szechuan pepper

In a large saucepan or wok, heat up the oil until it begins to shimmer. Add the pork and cook, breaking up chunks into small bits, until there is no pink left. Add the red pepper flakes and Chili Black Bean Sauce and stir for one minute. Add the cooking wine and put the lid on and cook for one minute.

Add the garlic, tofu, and one cup water. Stir gently to combine, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and add the green onions and starch + water mixture. Simmer and stir gently for one more minute until it thickens. Remove from heat and sprinkle with Szechuan pepper. Serve with white rice and perhaps a side of steamed veggies.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dill butter chicken thighs, parsely roasted potatoes

This is an extremely simple roast chicken dish that was orgasmic. I made some dill butter and put it under the skin of $.79/lb chicken quarters, then salted and peppered the exterior. I browned the chicken briefly in a pan, and roasted it on 475 until crispy and delicious. For the potatoes, I diced small red spuds and microwaved them in a covered bowl for about 5 minutes, until fork tender. They went in the oven with the chicken, and because of the pre-cooking, finished at about the same time. I simply tossed them with butter, salt, pepper, and chopped parsley. The couscous with smoked paprika was almost superfluous.

Living the good life, $0.65 at a time

Middle Eastern Vegetable Ragout

Melanie got this recipe from an Arabic cookbook, and upon testing, results indicated delicious. We ate it with flatbread, but it'd be good on rice as well. I've translated it from the cookbook.:

3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion, cut into slivers
2 cloves crushed garlic
4 small zucchini, cut into circles (remember these are theoretically the lighter green, almost grey middle eastern ones)
2 tomatoes, diced
1 can chickpeas
1 c. water (or less if you want to eat it with bread)
Salt, cumin and cinnamon to taste

1. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil.
2. When onion is transparent(in the Arabic: 'when the onion becomes blond'. Go figure.), add zucchini, and cook for a short while.
3. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, water, spices and cook, covered, on medium for around 20 minutes.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Peace Like a River Fish Chowder

One of my favorite books is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. It's a story about a crime, the road, the trials a family faces, and miracles. It takes place in Minnesota and South Dakota in the wintertime--the perfect setting for chowder. My recipe was inspired by this line:

"Supper that night was Swede's favorite, a red-potato chowder Dad mixed up with hunks of northern pike. Seasoned with vinegar and pepper this was our king of soups; a person didn't even want to put crackers in it."

I've kept the recipe humble and hearty, as would befit the story. You can doctor it up as you like (though I've probably included too many herbs as it is), but believe me when I tell you that it is irresistibly good even in its simplest form.

2 lbs red potatoes, skin-on and scrubbed
1 lb white fish
4 Tbsp. butter or bacon fat
1 small onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1-2 qts water or fish or chicken broth
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp dill or dill seed (optional)
lots of black pepper
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional but encouraged)

To speed this up you can pre-cook your potatoes or use leftover ones, but starting from raw is fine.

In a heavy soup pot, cook the onions and celery in the fat until they are soft and browning on the edges. Add the thyme, dill, and some black pepper and stir. Add the potatoes and cover with water or broth to the level you want your soup at, and salt. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are very soft and falling apart.

Using a blender or masher, whomp the potatoes until they are at your desired combination of puree and chunks. Add the fish and simmer for ~5 minutes, or until the fish is cooked and flaky. Break it apart with your stirring spoon and a fork. Add the vinegar, parsley, more black pepper, and salt, and cook for 2 more minutes. Delicious with bread and butter.

Some tips:
  • You can substitute the brine from some dill pickles for the vinegar.
  • This is a great way to use canned fish. The recipe is best if at least some of the fish is fresh, though. Most recently I made it with 10 oz fresh cod and a small can of salmon.
  • The vinegar is essential. Before you add it the chowder tastes ho-hum, but after you add it, it's world-class.
  • Amounts are approximate. You can make this as potatoey, brothy, or fishy as you like.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Easy bread pudding

This is actually an egg custard with some bread in it, but boy o boy, is it delicious. I use up all the old dry bread I can find:

Butter baking pan (any kind will do - I use a round glass casserole pan)

1 1/2 cups dry bread
1 cup milk
1 handful golden raisins

Soak bread and raisins in milk; add more milk to cover if necessary. Now go do something so you don't obsess over whether it has soaked enough.

Preheat oven to 350

3 cups milk (you should have a total of 4)
6 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
(garam masala is also good here)

Whip eggs, milk, and dry ingredients until eggs are fully beaten. Pour over the soaked bread. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until it has puffed up and is completely cooked in the center.

You should probably refrigerate the leftovers if there are any. This makes a great substitute for your usual breakfast.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Turkey Pot Pie

So, I was looking for a way to get rid of some Thanksgiving leftovers (including some pie crust), and I hit on the idea of a pot pie. I made it in a slapdash way since I didn't have too much time for cooking, so given more time it'd be more delicious:

Leftover turkey drumstick and wing
Leftover pie crust
Bay leaves
3ish garlic cloves
Wine or beer

I cooked the turkey pieces in water with celery and onions (I saved the carrots for later so they wouldn't be too mushy, but still add flavor), whole garlic cloves and spices on a fairly high light till the liquid reduced and was reasonably flavorful (i.e. a halfhearted stock - approx. 1 hr). I removed the bones, retaining the meat. Then I made a roux with the flour, mixed in both milk and the broth, including all the veggies and meat, and added frozen peas. I added a bit of wine, though frankly dark beer (guiness) probably would have been better, and simmered until a bit thicker.

During this time, I preheated the oven to 400. I rolled out the pie crust and put it into a pyrex bowl. I didn't have enough dough to make a tight fighting lid, so I sort of floated the extra top part on the filling. It looked a bit like the crust was melting into the pie at first, but it was fine in the end. I then baked it until the top crust was golden brown. The bottom crust was flaky and golden brown, and the filling was delicious.

If you wanted to do this properly, you're supposed to actually make a stock, and then redo the veggies in a stew format. You'd probably want to just make pie crust from scratch.